Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Programs with vocals on the way

Use of music with lyrics opens up new possibilities; Weddings abound
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Coach/choreographer Karen Kwan Oppegard says she is being very selective in her use of vocals in programs. She is pictured here with Drew Meekins, who attended the wedding of coach Damon Allen and Enrique Viveros. -Sarah S. Brannen

As the 2014-15 season gets underway, we have already had the pleasure of seeing a lot of senior skaters compete to vocal music with lyrics. Upper-level singles and pairs teams, like dancers and synchronized skaters before them, can now skate to a much broader range of music.

"When the vocals come in, it's like a different instrument," coach and choreographer Karen Kwan Oppegard said. "It's stronger, more powerful. You can use the words to create a story."

"I felt like it opened up so many new avenues," said coach Mark Mitchell, who does a lot of choreography for his students. "It was more fun to pick music; there were more options, ways to work the vocals in and out of the pieces. The majority of my kids have some kind of vocal. It made my job of picking music this year so much more fun."

Lori Nichol choreographed Ross Miner's new long program to Andrea Bocelli's "Romanza."

"As soon as I heard it, I was like, 'Wow, that's really beautiful,'" Miner said. "I love Andrea Bocelli. His voice is a very expressive instrument; it's very easy to understand the emotion behind it. People don't need to understand the literal lyrics to feel the program. It's hard for me not to be moved while I'm skating to it. It's beautiful music, and you have to feel it and let it out."

Miner said Nichol had suggested several other options for him, including Bruce Springsteen. He is keeping his non-vocal short program to "The Way We Were," although he did ask Mitchell, casually, whether they might want to re-cut the music to include a vocal track. Even if they had, it wouldn't have been the Barbra Streisand version.

"I don't think you'll see many people skating to lyrics by the opposite gender," Miner said.

Miner will skate both programs at the Philadelphia Summer Championships this week.

Choreographer David Wilson says that vocal music will be more widespread than he had anticipated -- about a quarter of the skaters he's worked with this offseason will have lyrics in their programs.

"I was a little concerned about it being in the context of a competitive routine, but I saw very little different from what I would normally feel doing a show piece," Wilson said. "The meaning of the words -- either in a literal sense or a subtext between the lines -- plays on your creative juices. I was scared to feel bound by the elements, but in the end, it wasn't a problem."

Some of Wilson's skaters particularly wanted vocals in their programs. For others, Wilson was the one who decided to go in that direction.

"I enjoyed it, because the fact that there are words and stories opens up another layer," Wilson said. "I think it will make programs more accessible to general audiences. One of the complaints that I get from my friends who are not in skating is, 'Why do they use the same old boring music all the time?' I hope it does pique some public interest. Maybe it can take some of the edge off for the skaters, making it seem more like a show."

Kwan Oppegard, Wilson and choreographer Tom Dickson all mentioned that vocal music will be particularly effective with pairs, just as it has been with dance.

"With pairs, it's a whole new way to create a story," Kwan Oppegard said. "From an audience's and judge's perspective, it will be a lot more entertaining."

Dickson says he doesn't use a vocal piece in its entirety; rather, he looks for short sections that help the music progress. Plus, he says that lyrics need to be able to carry in the rink, and to be understood over a variety of sound systems. Because of that, he likes to use simple pieces.

"I only use [lyrics] if I feel like it adds to the piece," Dickson said. "When they're simple, they can give an added dimension. When you 'over-lyric,' it kind of gets drowned out. Most operas would be very hard to follow, because of the language and sound systems and acoustics. I haven't used any opera yet."

"I've been very selective in using it properly," Kwan Oppegard said. "All the young kids want Frozen! You have to be selective, and not just use vocals for the sake of using vocals. The kids come with the new Selena Gomez song, and it's just not the right arena for a competitive program. They have to be growing and understanding musicality."

Dickson estimates that he has used vocal music with lyrics for about 40 percent of his students this season. For Satoko Miyahara, he used about 30 seconds of lyrics in her program to Miss Saigon.

"That's all it needed," he said. "The words were super-easy to understand. Because they're easy to hear, they helped her bring out more character and expression. I think it will help bring out more character in her."

Mitchell also feels that lyrics may help his skaters perform more expressively.

"I felt like my kids were able to relate to the music [with lyrics] better, to hear the music and perform with the music," Mitchell said. "I feel like it has brought some of my kids out of their shell."

Working with lyrics brings a whole new set of challenges, though. As Dickson noted, the words need to be intelligible in the rink. In addition, it can be harder to cut an extended song or aria down to the required length, since the words, as well as the key and time signatures, need to make sense. Copyright rules may restrict how a popular song may be cut.

"It's a whole different dimension," Dickson said. "You'd better edit them correctly or people won't understand."

"It's harder to edit a vocal track," Wilson said. "I just completed a Michael Bublé piece for a pair team. A lot of his music has big, beefy instrumental sections, which really helps. You can't cut into a verse or into a chorus. And even if you get the rights to use a song, there are really stringent rules on how you can edit it. You can't play with it too much."

Dickson said that although he'd stay away from a lot of opera, he's interested in using La Boheme.

There are parts of 'Carmina Burana' I think are really nice, and there's the movie [TheLion in Winter,'" he said. "Gregorian chant, medieval music -- there's all kinds of aisles you could go down."

"I love using chorus in the background," Kwan Oppegard said. "It feels very epic."

Two shows July 19

Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner will host the fourth annual "An Evening on Ice" fundraiser July 19 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. The stellar cast includes Carolina Kostner, Ashley Wagner, Polina Edmunds, Meghan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Kimmie Meissner, Alissa Czisny, Adam Rippon, Rachael Flatt, Shawn Sawyer, Douglas Razzano, Jonathan Cassar, Jessica Calalang and Zack Sidhu, Rohene Ward and others.

"We truly can't believe what this show has turned into," US Athletic Foundation founder Nicholas LaRoche said. "Starting with just an idea of how to raise money and reaching out to friends for help has blossomed into something amazing."

Kwan Oppegard is on board as choreographer for the opening and closing numbers. Tickets are still available at or at the door.

Also on July 19, the latest edition of Parker Pennington's "Skate Dance Dream" show will take place at the Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston, South Carolina. Courtney Hicks, Timothy Dolensky and Sean Rabbitt will skate in the show, along with popular So You Think You Can Dance stars Tucker Knox and Amelia Lowe.

Since she appeared on the dance competition TV show, Lowe has been living in New York City while continuing her dance training. She has performed with the ELSCO dance company and appeared in Boardwalk Empire and some commercials.

"I love watching figure skating," she told us. "It's my favorite part of the Winter Olympics, actually! I believe that dancers and figure skaters can learn from watching one another. They both require a high level of technical skill as well as artistry, only figure skating happens on a much slipperier surface."

Knox has been teaching and choreographing around the U.S., as well as dancing in Switzerland, since he appeared on the show.

Ticket information is at

More weddings

The spate of summer weddings continued in recent weeks, with Shizuka Arakawa re-celebrating her marriage with her surgeon husband in Hawaii. They were first married last December, and their baby is due next January. Cynthia Phaneuf married Max Talbot July 12; his Twitter feed that day read: "Dentist on wedding day!" Their son, Jaxson, was born in February.

Our own Drew Meekins attended the nuptials of Damon Allen and Enrique Viveros in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 5. Best man Lukas Kaugars led off the informal ceremony, playing the guitar as the two grooms walked down the aisle. Joshua Farris also played guitar during the ceremony -- his first public performance! Scottish skater Jamie Wright was the "mate of honor," Stacy Kim was in the wedding party, and Angela Wang looked lovely in red. On Viveros' side were Rachel Tibbetts and Arielle Avant.

Skating photographer Jay Adeff and skating journalist Jayar Walker were married July 12 in Monterey, California.

"Our processional music was Muse's 'Exogenesis Part 3,' and our final dance was 'Fields of Gold.' ... Both were selected because of figure skating," Walker told us.

Congratulations to all!

Sarah and Drew
Follow us on Twitter @SarahandDrew!